Category Archives: Events

IACC-Listen to the leader

Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) in Chennai organizes many events for the local business community throughout the year. One of their regular series is “Listen to the Leader” where an imminent personality talks on their journey. Apart from the talks providing quality food for thought, you also can feed your stomach as a buffet breakfast accompanies the talk.

For today’s talk the guest speaker was CA.T.N. Manoharan, Past President of ICAI and Padma Shri Awardee. The event was held in Taj Club House, Mount Road, Chennai. In the 30 minutes, Mr.Manoharan walked the audience through his experience of handling the post Satyam fraud events and the lessons learnt.

Background of Satyam saga: In January 2009, Satyam Computers  Services Founder & Chairman Mr.Ramalinga Raju admitted in an open letter for committing fraud by falsifying top-line and fixed deposits held by the company (full report here).  Till then Satyam though India’s fourth largest IT Services firm, it was most respected for its talent pool and domain expertise. Within days after the scandal broke out, Government of India in a timely fashion dissolved the existing board of the company and appointed a 6 member (initially 3) board including Mr.T.N.Manoharan. In the next few months, the new board under guidance of Government of India, stabilizes the firm through various measures including giving confidence to deserting clients, winning employees trust back, arranging short term debts for cash flow and finally identifying a buyer (which was Tech Mahindra) to take over the company. After few years, Satyam got merged with Tech Mahindra and rest is history.

In the lively and entertaining talk, Mr.Manoharan traced on various steps the government appointed board took and how the 4-6 months was very challenging. He rightfully attributed the turn around of Satyam to two things, first the commitment of Satyam employees and second was the timely intervention by Government of India (a rarity nowadays). Mr.Manoharan assessment for Mr.Raju’s action to be greed and eagerness to please the stock market under any account; what would have been started as an one-off massaging of figures to tide over a difficult quarter turning quickly into an addiction for the firm and as Mr.Raju himself has said in his open letter “it was like riding a tiger and not knowing how to get down without being eaten“.

Mr.Manoharan says he quickly realized the magnitude of the problem, when he landed in Hyderabad Airport soon after his appointment to Satyam board by Government, he was warmly received by a company arranged private chauffeur; few minutes away from Airport, the Driver requests Mr.Manoharan’s help for settling his employers dues first over others!. Few days back, Taxi rental firms from around the world would have queued in front of Satyam for getting his “big” orders.  Then the immediate issue was cash flow, the company turned out to have little of vitamin-M and the month end salary expenses for Satyam was few hundred crores. Thankfully only the Fixed Deposits and Top Line was falsified, but Satyam had huge land blocks and other assets with which banks came forward for a line of credit. Crossing this bridge, the attention turned into getting employees trust and clients confidence. The board nominated Mr.Manoharan to be full time in Hyderabad to handle the day-to-day affairs which turned out to be a blessing in hindsight for speed of decision making.

Throughout the talk, Mr.Manoharan shared numerous anecdotes, quotes, observations & jokes from his vast experience. Below are few I could recollect:

In India, Balance Sheet have Assets on Right-Hand side and Liabilities on Left-Hand Side.  In cases like Satyam, there was nothing LEFT (remaining) in RIGHT (hand side) and nothing RIGHT (Correct) in LEFT (hand side)

Balance_Sheet
(Image courtesy: Tally Solutions)

In the enquiry by Railway safety board to the engine driver after a train running into a paddy field killing many hundreds. The board asks the driver what happened. For which the driver says a man came running into the track; board member interrupts to say don’t you have the training to teach you to value over hundred of lives on-board over the one person. The driver responds saying Yes, I know that but the man who returned running back from track to the paddy didn’t know and I have to chase him down with the train Smile

In business we need to listen to your head in complying with law and to your heart in dealing with people. Adapt with technology/knowledge changes but stay static on fundamentals.  Ability may take you to the top but it takes Character to stay there. To live beyond your age ‐ Love people and use wealth. Unfortunately in Satyam’s case the promoters loved wealth and used people

tn-manoharan-withPM
(with Prime Minister of India Dr.Manmohan Singh)

For a question on how he decided to accept this risky assignment (because immediately after Satyam fraud broke out, the company turned out to be a pariah), Mr.Manoharan replied saying he and the other board members took this assignment as a service to nation and with all humility & nobility. In the end it turned out well for all stakeholders connected to the firm (Employees, Clients, Vendors and the country). Mr.Manoharan got his work recognized through a Padma Shri award (one of India’s coveted civilian award) from President of India in March 2010.

Windows 2000 Launch in Chennai

(Flashback date: October 15, 1999)

The other day while going through my photo archives spotted these photos – rows of desktop PCs, bulky CRT monitors and people sitting on ground with wired mouses. I could recognize Windows 2000 in the Monitors, its startup screen had a distinct white background with colours for the Windows logo.

Windows-2000-Chennai-Launch-PCs

venkat with friends19

What was being done by my colleagues seen above was setting up about half-a-dozen PCs with Windows 2000 Beta (B2). That build was notorious for its stability especially around COM+. We needed COM+ subscriber/publisher model to work across machines and that sub-system worked only on flawless networking. This whole exercise was preparations were meant for Microsoft’s launch event in Chennai for Windows 2000.

COM+ = COM + MTS + Services

With Windows XP technical support expiring with yesterday, you are left wondering how much of then technology has become obsolete quickly!!

MSDOS.NET

(Backdated Post: 25/08/2000)

Being April 1st, it is appropriate for this post.

In late 2000 when the Microsoft world was going crazy on announcement .NET, it was .NET everything everywhere. Within the Microsoft user groups at that time, the joke used to be, anyone trespassing any Microsoft building in Redmond will be renamed as *.NET. So I would be called Venkat.NET if I was spotted by a Microsoft Product manager.

In this background during Microsoft Tech Ed 2000 India, in the organizing team we had to manage a 15 minute empty slot in the schedule. We couldn’t leave it free. We needed all the attendees to be in one hall, so that we could get the main hall ready without hindrance. And that was slot I used unravel for the first and only time anywhere in the world – Microsoft DOS.NET, the DOS operating system being upgraded beyond anyone’s imagination.

optimizing for performance, availability with msdos.net

msdos.net - dir outputs XML, Batch files exposed as COM+ objects, complete multi-threading & object pooling capability in MSDOS

Doing this session was fun, everyone enjoyed, yes the audience too like the spoof and laughed at it. It’s a different story that many years after this session Microsoft did re-architect and reimagine the humble command line to integrate with .NET when they released PowerShell.

Cognizant Mr.Lakshmi Narayanan – IACC Talk

Today was the first breakfast talk for this year’s series in Tamil Nadu branch of The Indo-American Chamber of Commerce. These talks are conducted under the title Meet Success First Hand.

Today’s guest was Mr.Lakshmi Narayanan (Vice Chairman, Cognizant), I have listened to his talks many times in the past, but he never fails to energize and motivate you. His talks are never tiring and always fresh even though he may be saying the (same) Cognizant success story.

IACC-10Dec2013-CTS-MrLakshmiNarayan

Mr.Lakshmi spoke on how Cognizant (CTS) in the initial days (~1997 when they had about 500 people) itself consciously decided to focus on exceptional customer relationship & growth (in that order). He recalled how this focus was arrived after a management advisory firm shared an observation to CTS founders that firms can excel on only one of the three axis – Innovation, Operation Excellence (Low cost) and Customer Relationship.

And how CTS grow consistently every quarter except on two occasions (2001 and 2008), and Growth is pre-planned!. CTS is not the only company that has bet on growth. HDFC founded on the same year as CTS is another firm that has been growing.

In the earlier days of CTS, the motto or rallying cry was Building stronger business (internally it meant stronger CTS and for customer facing roles this meant helping the customer build a stronger business). Recently it evolved into Keep Challenging.

Mr.Lakshmi then touched upon the phenomenal growth that is happening in Healthcare (not only in Obamacare and insurance), how majority of the startups funded by Venture East are in Healthcare domain. About this firm NeuroTrack which can predict Alzheimers disease by showing you a series of images.

Sri Krishna Jayanthi 2013

Compared to our usual preparations and delicacies for Sri Krishna Jayanthi this year we had a simpler affair. This was due to the space constraint in the apartment we are living temporarily till the renovation work in our house gets over. At the pace in which the work is going, it looks like we need lot of divine intervention for the work to get over. And being a software professional I thought its only IT projects that are grossly delayed.

Sri Krishna Jayanthi Aug2013 

 

 

Tamil Internet Conference 2013

After the Tamil Internet Conference 2010, I took a long break due to my other commitments. This year for TI2013 at Kuala Lumpur on invitation from the organizers I presented two guest lectures.

Venkatarangan Talk in Tamil Internet Confernce 2013

When I started my first talk (the time slot was fixed at last moment) I was pleasantly surprised to find Prof.M.Anandakrishnan seated in the first row listening eagerly to my talk, I felt honoured.

Talk 1: Publishing apps to Windows 8 & Windows Phone 8 stores
Windows8 and WP8 are a strong #3 player in the fast growing Tablet & SmartPhone marketplace. Unlike traditional Windows, Apps for Windows 8 and WP8 can be distributed only through Microsoft Official Appstore. This requires the Language App developer to understand these stores and their nuances which could be different from familiar iTunes or Google Play. The talk will also introduce listeners to the new Microsoft Office 365 Marketplace & XBOX One and why you should care about them


Slide-deck 1 and Slide-deck 2

Talk 2: கணினி மேக வீதியில் தமிழ் ஊர்வலம்
Language computing has moved beyond computer science algorithms and language research. It is about empowering users to live their dreams to  full potential. In this new “devices” world it is all about the services running in the cloud. In this talk we will explore the current state of some of these services and level of  their Tamil enablement.


Slide-deck

My good friend and former INFITT Chairman Mr.Muthu Nedumaran (Malaysia) presenting me with a memento (below).

16August2013-TI2013 Malaysia (9)

One of the talks I enjoyed listening was by Mr.Bemby B. Narendra from Aksara Bali team of Bali islands. The talk was about how they got Balinese script into Unicode (details here) purely on voluntary effort without any organization/governmental help. The script’s resemblance at various levels to Indic scripts showed on a casual look, the close ties that India & Indonesia had in pre-colonial days.

Bali script in unicode

As an introduction to the Bali script talk, Muthu Nedumaran gave an introduction lecture on the landscape of scripts used by major Languages of Indian subcontinent and their similarity and differences, I got to learn a lot from these two talks.

Indian Languages and Scripts

I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with old friends & academic stalwarts from around the world. Its a pleasure to meet them face to face and have some thought-provoking discussions over a coffee on various items

TI2013

NASSCOM Emerge Forum–HR Panel

Today NASSCOM Emerge Forum in Chennai conducted a Panel discussion on “Proven Strategies by Emerging Companies to become Employers of Choice”. I was invited to be one of the panellist by Senthil Kumar of NASSCOM Chennai and Emerge Forum Chairperson George Vettah (CEO of Kallos Solutions). I shared the dais with Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy (CEO of Maarga Information Systems).

George started off the session with a positive message that Small & Medium companies in Emerge should approach and develop their HR strategies with an upbeat attitude, rather than as under-dogs to IT biggies in India. There is lot that SMEs can offer that the Biggies can’t deliver due to their weight.

I talked about 5-6 things that worked for us well at Vishwak Solutions. First is the Pay Package, it is important that Emerge companies are at least at the 80-85 Percentile for that role in your city, everything else you do comes next. Second will be to have the minimum hierarchy (though sounds cliché) between the Engineers & Management – this helps by saving cost got by reducing on the number of Senior Level Management talent, which can be passed on to Mid Level talent. Third, have a no-nonsense work atmosphere. Fourth will be to increase your communication during tough-times, mainly to quell rumours which hurt you more.  Fifth will be for senior management/founder to get involved while recruiting, mainly to sell your company as a brand where they will want to work. Lastly highlight and provide people with as much Onsite/aboard opportunities; it makes them feel good and as a validation to their talent/performance.

Proven Strategies by Emerging Companies to become Employers of Choice”.

There were about 40 people from various companies. The Q & A session was lively, with many interesting and thought provoking questions, that we enjoyed answering. Overall I was happy to have got a chance to share the panel with two experienced entrepreneurs of this city.

Rethinking Marketing by Dr. Minet Schindehutte

Indo American Chamber of Commerce had organized for a talk today at U.S.Consulate General, Chennai. It was “Rethinking Marketing: The Entrepreneurial Imperative” by Dr. Minet Schindehutte.  As always, going through the security at the Consulate office and lack of parking near-by was a pain.

If you are going for any event at US Consulate in Chennai including Saturday movies or to American Consulate Library, remember to carry a Government given ID Card (Driving License, Passport, PAN Card and so on) in original, be there 30 minutes before the event, going by Auto-rickshaw will be the most convenient. Unlike VISA interviews, for these invited events Cellphones are allowed but need to switched off & deposited along with your original ID at the security gate. During the event, I found it difficult without my Mobile for taking photos, writing down notes & doing web references. We have got so used to having with us all the time our Mobile phones. And when you don’t have it you feel you are lost.

Dr. Minet Schindehutte carries a very accomplished bio. She is a scientist, entrepreneur, educator and scholar, a leading American expert on entrepreneurship, with previous work experience both in academia and the private sector. She is the co-author of two books including a book with the same title as this talk today, currently she is an associate professor of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management, and a Fulbright Nehru Visiting Scholar BITS Pilani (KK Birla Goa Campus).

Dr. Minet Schindehutte(Picture courtesy: Indo American Chamber of Commerce, Chennai)

Dr.Minet presentation had 10 salient points to remember for a successful marketing, in the talk today due to time given she covered about 6 of them. The key point was that as a seller of a product/service it is extremely important to put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer. Think differently, categorize the audience correctly and so on. She mentioned:

At the end of talk, I was left thinking on how much of these marketing guidelines (which were certainly great when they were written) are valid in this “new normal” world that we are living through now.

Post Budget Analysis Meeting by IACC

This years’ Indian Central Government Budget 2013 was more of a non-event. Industries expected worse with a popular budget with eye only on the upcoming general elections, for that it turned out to be a pretty routine budget. Finance Minister Mr.P.Chidambaram due to his oratory skills seems to have won over the key constituents. But due to mastery of law he probably has masked the bitter sides. Unlike 5 years before, today India’s finance is not all rosy, there is a huge budget deficit and a sense of mutual lack of trust between industries/investors and the Government. But like the wise will say, what went up has to come down and this too shall pass.

In this background, I didn’t follow the budget keenly like  the previous years. So as a member when I got the invite from IACC (Indo American Chamber of Commerce) for attending the Post Budget Analysis meeting to be held today I was not sure. Over the last 2-3 years I have reduced/removed my membership in many of the social and other industry associations including INFITT, TiE Chennai, IT SME, Lions Club, KTS (Kani Tamizh Sangam) for various reasons chiefly to take some breather.

Coming back to today’s event. Though I stepped in to it with doubts on how much I will like it, the speakers made it interesting and worth the time.

IACC-Post-Budget-2013

Thanks to the organizers for a well selected panellist (Listed below) and nice crisp event organization.

  1. Mr. R. Anand, Partner-Tax & Markets, Ernst & Young P Ltd
  2. Mr. B. Sriram, Executive Director- Tax & Regulatory services,   Price Waterhouse Coopers
  3. Mr. K. Vaitheeswaran, Chief Executive, K. Vaitheeswaran & Co
  4. Mr. V. Niranjan, Advocate, Madras High Court

Budget-Analysis-2013

Below are few points that I noted down (by no means comprehensive):

Mr R Anand said Turnover Growth is Vanity, Profit is Sanity, Cash is only Reality. Great quote to remember. Anywhere Any Day – CASH IS KING!!

Deciphering the Current Account Deficit figure, the FM has said in his speech needed by India, translates to about ₹45000Cr Per month.This is a mind-boggling ask. With this hanging over the head, India is Importing ₹8000Cr of fruits,₹10000Cr of Vegetables and the culprit is not Gold Imports. Government has to face the reality of a consumption generation that it leads. Foreign exchange through any means (FII/FDI) is just not coming due to uncertainty in policies. Government could have better served the cause by encouraging exports & dollar revenue simply clarifying many of the ambiguities surrounding tax laws like Service Tax for Exports

Service Tax on Food served in restaurant is ruled by Supreme court as sale of goods and hence a State Subject. But Central budget has introduced Service Tax on Food served in all AC Restaurants, this is going to lead to lot more litigation. Already this area has its share of ambiguities like in Tamil Nadu where the VAT for food ranges widely from 2% to 14% depending on whether the food is branded or not. How do you classify an Idli which doesn’t have a brand printed or baked into it

Success rate of customs, excise and service tax authorities over Taxpayer in cases that were ruled by Supreme Court, High Courts and Tribunals are only in single digits or lower side of double digits. So in over 80% of cases the Taxpayer is hassled by the system

Budget-Analysis-2013-2.jph
(Yes, you can see me in the above picture at extreme right but being clipped in view)

Over all I got a feeling that most of the speakers were saying that Government has a serious trust deficit on its own taxpayers, as a result is more interested on punitive provisions than encouragement which is what is needed in these globally trying times.

Motivation for Budding Entrepreneurs

The other day I got an email from a person representing Startup Saturday inviting me to do a talk @ IIT Madras Department of Management Studies. On a follow-up phone call, Mr.Mani Parthasarathy (one of the organizers) explained to me that Startup Saturday is a forum (yet another) for entrepreneurial community and they do monthly events in many cities across India.

I didn’t want to give yet another talk on Entrepreneurship which no one wants to hear & many are already aware :: covering the familiar – on how to raise funds, write a business plan, how to hire, management techniques, branding & so on. Instead I asked for an interactive talk, “Motivating budding Entrepreneurs” (Slidedeck here, PDF here – slides are few & brief). I dropped few hints & nudged the audience into discussing the social & economic ground reality of doing business today in India. The abundance of opportunity in Indian Job market that is available today for a fresh graduate, the peer-pressure for getting into a secure job, a risk-averse culture in the society & lack of governmental/financial support. Though India has come a long way from 1990s when I started, it still has miles to go. Finally I shared what I learnt in my journey & wished them all success in their individual travels. Overall I felt it was a pretty lively session with plenty of interesting questions that I enjoyed discussing.

Startup-Saturday-Motivation-1

Startup-Saturday-Motivation-2

IIT Madras Campus

When Mr.Mani approached me I readily agreed for the talk as the venue was IIT Madras. I love visiting IIT Madras campus at any given opportunity, the place feels to me so peaceful & serene. Knowing my academic strengths, I never aspired to get into IIT. But I did take the IIT-JEE entrance exam just for peer-pressure, but that’s a story for a different day. Still I carry fond memories for this campus. During my school days my maternal Uncle was doing his Doctorate research in Economics in IIT Madras and he used to bring me every weekend for “Charlie Chaplin” movies. After the movie I will stay for the night in his dormitory & in the morning catch through the window glimpses of Deers & Monkeys roaming freely. In my recent visits to the campus I haven’t seen any of the animals. Today while going to the event and returning both times (evening time say 3PM & 5PM) I saw plenty of Monkeys and Deers in the campus and it was so nice. I cursed myself that I didn’t have my DSLR with me during the visit. Next time…

Monkeys-in-IIT-Madras-Campus
(Monkeys roaming free near Department of management studies, IIT Madras)

Deers-in-IIT-Madras-Campus
(Happy to see Deers still in IIT Madras, near Shiva Temple in the campus)